Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

UN Under Pressure to Cede More Powers

Kosovars complain that UNMIK is taking too long to hand over authority.
By Arben Qirezi

Relations between Kosovar leaders and United Nations officials are deteriorating as the former becoming increasingly exasperated with the latter's reluctance to ease their grip on power.


Now enjoying their first experience of democratically elected government, Kosovars are showing a growing appetite for self-rule.


As a result, they are beginning to chafe at the continued firm control of the United Nations Mission in Kosovo, UNMIK, over foreign relations, justice, law and order, finance and regulation of former guerrillas in the Kosovo Protection Corps, KPC.


UNMIK dismisses the complaints as a ruse to cover up the Kosovan government's own failures. In a speech in January, the UN chief in Kosovo, Michael Steiner, said he was tired of being blamed for the government's poor performance.


The UN Security Council established UNMIK in June 1999, following the withdrawal of Serb military and police forces from Kosovo. The objective was to create democratic institutions to take over "substantial autonomy" during an interim period until the final status of Kosovo is resolved.


Since then, UNMIK has organised elections each year, enabling Kosovars to develop advanced electoral processes.


After a parliamentary ballot in 2001, they had their first democratically elected assembly. But the parties became deadlocked over how to share out cabinet seats. UNMIK stepped in and provided a framework enabling Kosovars to elect a president, a prime minister and an inclusive cabinet composed of both majority and minority representatives.


But the government resented UNMIK's continued refusal to hand over its reserved powers. Kosovars began to look on the international authority with suspicion when Steiner's predecessor, Hans Haekkerup, agreed with the Serbian government in November 2001 to work together on issues such as return of refugees, police cooperation and justice.


Soon after he was appointed in January 2002, Steiner appeared to overcome much of the distrust that had been a feature of his predecessor's term in office.


The new UN boss took a tough position on Belgrade, warning it not to try and interfere in Kosovo affairs, and encouraged the development of the local assembly.


But the honeymoon period soon came to an end when Kosovars realised that he would not be prepared to hand over substantial powers over to the legislature.


The mood was summed up by Ramush Tahiri, principal political adviser to the President of the Kosovo Assembly, Nexhat Daci. "The UN's mission aim from the beginning was to build institutions, transfer responsibilities and create substantial autonomy," Tahiri told IWPR. " In view of this, an overlong process of transferring power must rank as a mission failure."


An example of this exasperation came in December, when members of Kosovo's assembly criticised UNMIK for disregarding their opinion on the 2003 budget. Sabri Hamiti, head of the Democratic League of Kosovo, LDK, said the international authority was depriving parliament of an elementary democratic self-rule principle - controlling its own revenues.


The UN has taken a different view on such matters. During last week's meeting of the Security Council, Secretary General Kofi Annan accused Kosovars of continuous attempts to exceed their authority and of an "increased desire to grab UNMIK's reserved powers instead of concentrating on the urgent issues over which they have responsibility".


Kosovars challenged Annan's assessments. Ernest Luma, the spokesman of the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo, AAK, told IWPR that UNMIK had chosen paternalism over partnership in its approach to the region. He said the conflict between Kosovars and UNMIK is "a natural articulation of the necessity for an accelerated transfer of powers".


For his party, justice and police should have priority in this process. For others, the economy remains important.


Sahit Berisha, a former political prisoner and a history teacher in a Pristina secondary school, told IWPR that increasing poverty in Kosovo could lead to politically-oriented protests which would further damage relations between Kosovars and the international community.


Analysts say that relations between UNMIK and local Albanians are beginning to take the absurd shape of a ruling party facing an opposition. But in spite of all the pushing and squabbling, both are careful not to split too far, as this would jeopardise Kosovo's development.


Speaking for many ordinary Kosovars, Shpetim Memshi, a student of chemistry at the University of Pristina, told IWPR, "People want politician to have a greater say, but not at the risk of open confrontation with the international community."


Arben Qirezi is a regular IWPR contributor